Coffee is such a personal thing. If I like cappuccino, you like drip coffee black, and Bill Cosby likes a triple-tall nonfat extrahot no-foam latte (apparently true), we're not going to agree on what the best coffee shop is.
But I'm the guy with the
pen keyboard soapbox. So before I tell you what I think are San Francisco's Top Five Coffee Shops, I'd better tell you my criteria.
Foremost is coffee quality. But with coffee shops, atmosphere matters; it won't excuse bad coffee, but it elevates a good cup. I'm not counting food items' quality much toward the Top Five (sorry, farm:table), but not having any food is a negative.
Most important: What kind of coffee? I drink drip and French press in restaurants and at home, but almost never in coffee shops (sorry, Philz). If I go to a specialist it's for espresso drinks, which I can't do well at home, or iced coffee. Cappuccino is my favorite, and don't pester me that Italians would call me a girlyman for drinking it in the afternoon, because this is San Francisco, and girlymen are cool.
Also, what kind of atmosphere? Many folks like to go to a coffee shop, plug in headphones, and stare at their laptops. But to me, good atmosphere is friendlier than that (sorry, the Summit).
One last thing before I launch into the list (and return to SFoodie's preferred royal “we”). The most important factor in a good coffee shop is location. In a city with more than 200 coffee shops, a good one next to your office is better than a great one across town. I have favorites in practically every neighborhood, and just because I like these five best doesn't mean I don't patronize plenty of others — indeed, some more than these.
But that said, these five are worth a special visit. Enough talk — let's have some coffee.